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Posted under: Opinion Fine Art

The Whitney Biennial Kindly Gave A White Woman The Space to Showcase Your Black Grief

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“I saw his tongue had been choked out and it was lying down on his chin,” she told him. “This eye was out and it was lying about mid-way the cheek. I discovered a hole. And I said, ‘Well, was it necessary to shoot him?’” “I said, I want the world to see this because, there is no way I could tell this story and give them the visual picture of what my son looked like.” 

In 1955, Mamie Till Mobley spoke these words about her son Emmett Till. A 14-year-old boy who had been murdered so brutally she would have a hard time making an identification. 

In 1955, newspapers across America and the world were shown a photograph that would eternally represent the high cost of being black in America. Laying in his casket, open, for us all to see, take in and never ever forget was Emmett Till. 

In 2017, we now know what we always suspected to be true, a white woman lied, and her lies killed an innocent black boy. 

In 2017, we have gotten to see through film, what happens when a black man is allowed to write a movie that does nothing but tell the truth about whiteness. But nothing is ever perfect, while Get Out continues to make box office history, giving the black community a rare chance of pitch perfect representation, we are reminded that while films like Get Out exist, so do white artists profiting off of us. 

Enter the Whitney Biennial. 

Photo: The Art Blog

A painting. A black boy in a casket. Black pain.

A. White. Artist.

Black pain can not exist in a capitalist society unless it can make a profit. And because capitalism is a white construct, showcasing that pain must come from the master, not the systematic slave. A white person does not look at Emmett Till’s dead body the same way a black person does, the history of their race does not exist with the depth of trauma that POC carry from birth. And because of that, a white woman has approximately 0 reason to even ponder, never mind go through with painting, the pain of blackness for her own gain. 

By painting Emmett Till’s body, a body that would have seen years of life had a white woman not lied on his name thus snatching his breath from this world in the most brutal way possible, Schutz takes ownership of a sequence of moments that shaped black folks forever. Emmett Till’s death is ours. It is our pain. He is the embodiment of how loudly white voices are heard. He shows us what white men will do to black bodies who they feel threaten their women’s angelic existence. He shows us that if America can’t see us in the fields they would rather see us in coffins. And once we are in those coffins, a white feminist who understands the pain surrounding Emmett Till, will take it, and with each brush stroke see dollar signs. 

In the white world, there exists a refusal to confer with black voices about black things. Instead, entire scripts are written about blackness without the inclusion of POC -- and that is what we see when we look at the Whitney Biennial. The cruelty of white people knows no limits nor does it see its own cruelty because it refuses to. 

And so, in 1955, a white woman got a black boy killed. 

And in 2017, a white woman paints his body and is celebrated by the art world. 

And in that time, Emmett Till has been joined by countless other black boys. Their black mothers, and fathers, and siblings and cousins have all tried to tell their stories, but it seems that there is no audience for a black person speaking about their pain. That audience only exists when a white person is doing the retelling. 


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